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Fire exercise timely

A combined rural fire training exercise held last week proved immediately valuable on Monday and Tuesday as a large blaze was contained near Dipton.

Management teams from Southern Rural Fire joined with representatives from eight other organisations last Thursday for a large-scale practice response, in preparation for the a busy summer season.

Just four days later, 50 firefighters and seven helicopters were coordinated to contain a fire that burnt about 100 hectares of a forestry block near Dipton.

Southern Rural Fire community and education coordinator Sally Chesterfield said the training exercise had been well-timed.

“This is an exercise to put our management teams through their paces and make sure they are ready for any scenario,” she said. “Our guys were primed and ready for this stuff after last week. As sad as it is, it couldn’t have been better timing.”

Monday’s fire in Dipton was very similar to a simulation held a number of years ago.

The exercises clarified the roles of management teams responsible for remotely controlling every firefighter and the resources they required, she said.

“People understand their jobs, it’s very fresh in their mind, particularly the management team are keeping track and trying to order resources.”

Last week’s exercise was the containment of a fire in the Henry creek area, just north of Te Anau, Ms chesterfield said.

The exercise included staff from the National Emergency Response Team, Fire Service, Emergency Management Southland, Southland District council, forestry companies, and the Department of conservation.

Ms chesterfield said the windy spring in Southland had made for a challenging few months for Southern Rural Fire, and the ongoing risk was something to keep in mind for farmers.

“With the winds we’ve had over the past few months, we’ve responded to about 20 fires.”

A restricted season was unlikely because it was based on dry conditions not wind, she said.

“People are very good about their rural fires, but it’s the 20-or-so days after the fire is out that the risk is highest,” she said.

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